Buying Online Is Boring

The other day I was buying some groceries.

I lined up at the checkout, behind about three other shoppers, and reached for one of those magazines they have at the checkout counter.

I had no intention of buying any of the magazines. As I recall, the one I reached for was a women’s fashion publication. I was just stealing a peek. Looking at something new.

Then the counter to my left opened up and the assistant waved me over. I should have been delighted to jump the lineup. But I wasn’t. I was disappointed. I had to put the magazine back.

The moral of this little story is that shopping in the real world is not a linear experience. It is filled with little unexpected moments.

By contrast, buying online is boring.

Vanilla.

Every purchase experience is the same. Different mazes on the way to the same old checkout. But always the maze.

Have you noticed that? Have you noticed how online retail sites are becoming more and more the same?

There are some reasons. The first is that every store is held captive within the same fifteen or so inches of computer screen.

There’s no way to add some trendy wooden flooring and halogen spotlights to the online experience.

In short, it’s tough to create a unique atmosphere online.

Another reason why stores online are becoming so stunningly predictable and boring is down to the pull of money invested.

Here’s what I mean by that.

Everyone invests in the same kind of software to drive their sites.

A choice of one or two database programs. Same with the shopping cart software.

Even in customer support, where there are dozens of choices, the solutions are all pretty much the same. Same with outbound email marketing. Same with profiling of customer behaviors on the site.

Every retail site seems to be in a mad rush to have the exact same systems as everyone else.

And in the process, they’re in a mad rush to make the customer experience the same. Undifferentiated. Boring.

Ironic for such a hot and trendy business environment as the Internet.

But the good news is this: While the big players rush blindly to serve up the same old vanilla, smaller businesses online have a great opportunity to offer chocolate fudge, strawberry and bubble-gum varieties of the online shopping experience.

I’d love to be buying something online and have an experience parallel to the one I had in the grocery store.

It would be great to feel disappointed that the final click was coming so soon.

What can small business do to achieve this? I think one of the first targets one can aim for is to surprise people. That would be nice in a world of vanilla a surprise or two.

Next week, we’ll figure out some practical steps that can add a little extra flavor to your site.

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